Apr 16, 2024 - News

Virginia kids are turning to ERs for mental health help

Illustrated collage of people with their heads in their hands, anonymous faces and brain scans.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Kids in Virginia are increasingly seeking mental health care in emergency rooms, per new Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association data.

The big picture: VHHA found that the number of pediatric patients visiting ERs for anxiety and depression in the beginning of 2023 surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

Why it matters: ERs weren't meant to be mental health providers, but limited resources outside of hospitals are leaving young patients in crisis with few options.

State of play: The youth mental health crisis has hit a boiling point, with parents and officials recognizing the role schools should play in intervening early.

  • In Henrico, for example, recent reports of a 42% increase in suicide-risk screenings among students in the past three years prompted the launch of a mental health initiative to expand access to therapy next school year.

Yes, but: They're also up against social media's impact and pervasive issues like gun violence, which became the leading killer of children during the pandemic and can lead to increased mental health risks for youth survivors.

  • Then there's the behavioral workforce shortage.
  • 70% of localities in Virginia have no child and adolescent psychiatrist as of 2022, the latest data available from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield have 59 total.

Zoom in: The higher rates of mental health issues and less access to care for youth dropped Virginia to 48th in the U.S. last year — down from 21st in 2022 — for youth mental health care, per Mental Health America rankings.

What we're watching: Gov. Youngkin signed into law a bill allowing school boards to adopt policies that widen teletherapy options for students.

  • It goes into effect July 1.
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